Select Page

Keith Poppin interview

by | Apr 28, 2018 | Articles, Interview

Keith Poppin

HARD TIME

When: 2002

Where: North Carolina, USA (by phone)

Reporter: Peter I

Copyright:  2003 – Peter I

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin is one of those names you’ve just got to take a closer look at. His career stretches back to the late 1960s, entering the studio at the well known address of 13 Brentford Road, Kingston, Jamaica. At the start of the 70s, his group Rocking Horse had a few hits for the Federal and Randys imprints, and then he went solo, hitting with such great shots as “Same Thing For Breakfast” (his biggest success so far, recorded for the Spiderman label), “Get Together” for the legendary Glen Brown, the hit song “Envious” for Phil Pratt, the superb “Some A Dem A Go Shame” for Clive Chin, and the roots classic sound of “Hold Not Thy Peace”. Unfortunately, after many, many memorable recordings and at least a public success without much money to see from it, Keith more or less vanished from the scene in the early 1980s.

“HARD TIME”

His career is a typical Jamaican reggae story of “praise without raise” and one I definitely felt should be told. He still possesses this soulful voice I grew to love when first hearing his works sometime in the late 80s. A new release is out now, titled Journeys, and one I beg you to lend an ear to. I can assure you it will be worth it. I spoke to Keith in mid-October of 2002 over the telephone from his American base, and this is what he had to say… Many thanks for help in getting this interview “off the ground” to Bob, Mike, Clive Chin for the link, and to Keith for taking the time to discuss some events, “trials & tribulations”, of his long career.

When and where were you born?
I was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica in May, 1949.

What were some of your early influences as far as music and entertainment goes?
I am a big fan of the Motown sound. You know, most Jamaican singers… we always listen to the Motown sound like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and Otis Redding, you know what I mean? And then… you know I personally was a big fan of that Motown sound until this day.

But locally… what captured you most?
OK, locally man, I was into like… you know, Bob Marley and we listen to Toots and the Maytals. Because Toots was until this day a great, great showman. I liked to watch Toots on stage, you know, so I always admired Toots live and stuff like that. And I liked the Paragons and the Heptones and a couple more a dem Jamaican singer that we liked to listen to. But my favorite was the Maytals then, and the Clarendonians too.

By asking that question I´m trying to trace where you got that vocal style from? I suppose it was something that evolved over the years but… you know the obvious influences?
Well, to be honest, I don´t pick no style from any other singer. God just bless me with a voice and a style to go with it. You know, I can sing any song… like a bass tone, and a tenor sound. So the Lord bless me in all different area in the music and singin’ business. If it comes to it I can sing a backing vocal for anyone, really. But I am more a lead singer than a back up singer.

I Suppose you were a church man too, started out in a choir and all that?
Oh yeah. I grow up with a Baptist church in Jamaica (laughs)! What I used to sing… my favorite song man was like “Amazing Grace” in times weh a little boy. (sings) “How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…” And to this day I love that hymn. Everybody mostly in the whole world like that song. But that was one of our favorite songs during the Baptist church. But I still go to church, y´know.

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin

How big was your family?
Oh, my family was big… eleven of us.

Did any of your brothers and sisters sing, or encourage you to approach the business side of it?
No, no… I´m just the first one. The Lord bless me that I’m the only singer in my family that can really sing. Although I have a younger brother in England who sings, doing cabaret and sings at weddings and things like that…

You come from Westmoreland, like Ronnie Davis too, right?
Yes. Ronnie is in Sav La Mar. I was born right there in Westmoreland and grew up in Kingston.

At what age did you come to Kingston?
About 17. ‘Cause I remember when President Kennedy was murdered and I was studyin’ at bible school, y’know, and then… I remember that Friday afternoon whilst at bible school we heard the news that the President was shot. And shortly after that now I moved on to Kingston to live with my father. Before, I had stayed all of my life up to that point with my grandmother. So there’s no father guidance around, y’know, so I pretty much do on my own. No father to say “Keith, this is wrong!” or whatever. So that was a world I had to face and do what I gotta do… and shortly after I have to leave my father house now. He used to live in Vineyard Town, Almond Town… you name it. But I used to mostly grow up in Almond Town. That is close to Heroes Park.

So from what time did you start to write songs?
When I came to Kingston… in church I used to be such a good singer that missionaries from, like, all over the world come and go up to the country to teach about Christ. And then when they hear me sing in church, man, it’s like some of them off to my grandmother now and say it would be better if I go abroad. One of the missionaries want adopt me to Canada. And I remember one wanted to take me to America. And my grandmother say “no”. She can’t give me up, because she don’t know what my father might say. Then after I go to Kingston and moving around now and I can sing and listen to the radio and hear the other rest of the guys dem how they sing. And go to the record store to hear other people’s record and go to the concerts like Saturday morning when you go to like the Carib and Regal Theaters and see all singers on stage. It influence you a lot so you wanna be “there” too. So, rehearse now and we start practice and get a group together, Rocking Horse. And some of the guys dem in Rocking Horse now… we change about two members. Some of them don’t want to show up for rehearsal, y’know, that is so true! That will always be the problem with groups! You know, some guys want play dominoes… or whatever. Always a big problem when we supposed to rehearse! I remember actually me and one member called Winston Newhill (Newell?) we actually have to fight… for rehearsal! One time I think we get a little money from a record producer and… he (Winston) was the first one there (laughs)! To help to collect the money. And the guy don’t wanna rehearse. So eventually I get rid of the group, man, and get out ’cause I know I’m a singer by myself and is me who used to carry the group, singing and performing… get a little concert here and there in Jamaica. I’m the one people used to tap on (?) for performing on stage. And then people used to call me “Mr Energetic” in Jamaica. On stage I used to go from corner to corner and people loved that about me!

Jimmy London

Jimmy London

When did you hook up with Jimmy London?
A: I met him in Kingston. He used to have a group named the Inspirations. They used to sing for Lee “Scratch” Perry. And Lee Perry used to be on Charles Street in downtown Kingston and then Prince Buster used to have his record store on the other side of the street. And then Bob (Marley) was with Scratch on Charles Street. They did “Duppy Conqueror” and “Small Axe”. I listened to them when rehearsing over by 36 Charles Street and they used to rehearse at Scratch record store round the back. And Glen Adams and Family Man and Carlton Barrett, the one that passed? Yeh… all of them used to come by Charles Street. Then you have David Isaacs (later a member of the Itals). He sing a song for Lee Perry now, “Place In the Sun (There Is Hope For Everyone)”. He did a cover version of that… by Stevie Wonder. That was a big hit for David Isaacs way back in the earlier days. Then I start to record for Lee Perry, the one I sang… and he make many versions of this song called “If You Are My Girl (Tell Me You Love Me Baby)”, and he put it out. I think he called it “Serious Joke”! (sings) “…if you are my girl, tell me you love me baby, if you are my girl, hold me and kiss me darling, you know I love you baby, no one would hurt you honey, if you just stand by me…”, that song. Then Scratch make a lot of different version of that song as “Serious Joke” and my version of the song, called “Stand By Me”. I think I sing about three songs for Perry. Jimmy London, now him sing a song called (sings) “won’t you tighten up, tighten up baby…”, that song. That sold a lot for Jimmy London and another guy called Billy Dyce in the early 70s. After that Jimmy London move on to Randys in downtown Kingston. I myself went to Randys, too. And then I move on to Phil Pratt. Now, Lloyd Campbell… I did “Same Thing For Breakfast”, that sold like 45,000 copies in Jamaica alone. Then I do another… a cover version for Lloyd Campbell, “Before The Next Teardrop Fall” (sings the verse). And “Whenever There Is Moonlight”. I do quite a few songs for Lloyd Campbell.

Rocking Horse. What I’ve heard is that Keith Chin (Randys) “discovered” the group and made the first big records… what’s the story?
No. We used to sing for Federal record company. That was for Ernie Smith. He used to be producer for Federal and the Khouris who used to own Federal record company. It’s now owned by Tuff Gong. Then with me, I’m the leader for Rocking Horse and we go down to Federal and Ernie Smith listen to us.

Rocking Horse

First of all, how did that link to Federal come about?
Well, I think we enter a festival, a festival song contest. And you know every year during independence time there’s a festival song competing for best song, just like you hear that Donaldson song (“Cherry Oh Baby”), right? And we compete and I think Ernie heard us there. Then we went to Federal and they say okay, they will record us and put out the song. Now Ernie Smith, he arrange it and after he arrange that he want a follow-up from us. So we give him that with “Oh What A Weeping & Wailing”. And then we move on like any other artist without the promotion we would like to get. At that time Federal have like Ernie Smith, Pluto Shervington, Tomorrow’s Children, and all them boys was Federals big artists. Now they would wanna “shelf” us (laughs)… like they would have us to be like certain people, y’know. And now that song “Weeping & Wailing” goes to number two on the charts. Ernie Smith give us that name too. And then we go to Randys Records…

Why did you decide to move to Randys?
Well, at the same time Jimmy London used to sing for Randys and we was spar at the time, you know what I mean? Then we talk to Keith Chin, who is uncle to Clive. I believe we enter with another festival song. I think we did a song called “Festival ’72”. Keith Chin record that song and then we move on to “(I Am A) Righteous Man” and “Hard Time”.

So what happened with those songs at the time, they sold well?
Yes definitely… in the 70s them songs sell a lot. That’s what people know us from at the time.

What about “Ram Daughter” for Randys? You did that one solo as well didn’t you?
No, I never do a solo cut of “Ram Daughter”. Me and Rocking Horse did sing that… (sings) “the children them a ram tam tam…”, something like that. So, no… I never redo that song. Keith Chin now… I am no longer in Rocking Horse and started solo by myself.

There’s other tracks credited to Rocking Horse. One on the Rocking Time label, “Hold On Strong” with Eric “Monty” Morris?
No, that’s not me. I never do a song with Eric “Monty” Morris. Also, I forgot to tell you, Peter, that when we just start the group we went to Sir Coxsone Dodd. Coxsone have the first cut of “Envious”. He have it on tape, with Jackie Mittoo playing organ on that recording session and Leroy Heptones playing bass. We used to call the group The Robbins. I sing about three to four songs for Coxsone Dodd.

Then there’s other songs with Rocking Horse such as “Be Thankful” (on the Sydna label), “Better Beware” and “Festival Bells” on Merritone?
“Better Beware”? Yes, that was for Federal record company.

Then there’s “I’m So Fed Up” on Panther in Jamaica (Randys/Trojan in England)?
“I’m So Fed Up”? Hmmm, yes.

There’s some female voices on it I think?
No, is me! Is me singing back the voices on that song. Yeah man, is me singing back the vocals on the harmony section there. Is me sing the lead, and me go and double track the backing vocal with a kind of female voice (the song was later redone as “Fed Up” on the “Envious” album for Phil Pratt.)

Also, you have “Play The Music” on High Power?
“Play The Music”? Well, as Rocking Horse… if it’s not for Federal then it is for Randys we really record for while I was in that group.

Soul Syndicate

Soul Syndicate

You had “Running Back Home” on Top Cat too?
“Running Back Home”? That one… I think I have a song (later) called “Go Back Home” and it could be the same song? Then some of the last songs with Rocking Horse before we split was… “Ram Daughter”. After I think we did some backing tracks for Lloyd Parks, with “Officially” and stuff like that. This is around 1974, somewhere along that line. And then I decide to move on.

So who played on some of those Randys tracks with Rocking Horse?
You have various musicians like Ranchie (McLean, guitar), and you have the Soul Syndicate band. They play on all the Jimmy London hits. You have to say that Soul Syndicate were the number one backing band in Jamaica, at that time. Jimmy were very successful with the Soul Syndicate, and Keith Chin. You have Dougie (Bryan?) and Sly (Dunbar) in the earlier days when Sly used to play with Lloyd Parks and We The People. He play a lot on my record, too. And good ol’ Ansel Collins… keyboards. All of those was from Rocking Horse days for… you see Randys was like the headquarters for artists. Downtown Parade was the center for record business… all the singers. All of us singers used to hang out at the corner right there, you know? If you want artists for a concert you can come right there and just find an artist…

What made you decide to finally split with that group?
Well, to be honest I wasn’t a follower, I was a leader (laughs)! So, most of the time one of the guy in the group, he say that he wanna lead. And he carry a falsetto voice. He cannot lead all the songs on falsetto. Like he wanna lead the song in falsetto when it don’t fit a falsetto voice! You know? Then he go into a lotta arguments too. He was doing other stuff weh I don’t wanna… he smoke. That’s on him if he want to smoke or more time get him liquor up a him head, stuff like that. Sometimes he turn up for rehearsal and don’t wanna turn up again or show up for a concert and him don’t have any outfit to wear and whatever. And I couldn’t take the headache man! So I just decide to get out a that group stuff ’cause it’s not working. So I just move on.

What was the line-up of Rocking Horse at that time, apart from you and Jimmy?
No, Jimmy (London) wasn’t in Rocking Horse. We had Winston Newhill, from Port Antonio. And a guy called Junior Green, from Clarendon.

Junior Green? He used to sing with the Slickers? (correction: actually it’s Abraham Green, Winston Bailey’s later replacement in the Slickers, that I mix this up with! -P)
Junior? With the Slickers? No, one a de time I think he used to sing with the Clarendonians. I think that’s what he said. I don’t know how true it be? Yeh…

Then the first “step” you took to go solo, was to Prince Tony (Robinson)?
Yes sir, I move to Prince Tony. I do “Kick The Bucket”. I never saw those records, y’know. And “Six In One” with (sings) “tek it easy, tek it easy, there’s no need to worry…”. That was one of the songs on the “Six In One” and that sold good too.

Then you had “I’m A Man of My Word” (actually the flipside to “Kick The Bucket”) on the High School label, and “Prophecy Revealing” on International?
Man, you tek me right back now!! Yes, them songs… you know, one time in downtown Kingston, we supposed to get some money and Prince Tony come out a him car, a Capri. That Capri car was running Jamaica hot. Everybody have a Capri car! And Prince Tony tell us to hold on, him going to get the money and come back. So Prince Tony go to him car fe a lass! A cutlass. I remember, man! Him draw the cutlass after us man! True him suppose to give us some money and him never give us no money.

There’s another one for him “Love Me Strong”, released as “Keith Smith” on the High School imprint too?
“Love Me Strong”? Yeh, I’m trying to remember them songs I do for Prince Tony. I do quite a few song for him. Like I said at that time after I leave Rocking Horse I was singing for him you have like the Chosen Few, Scotty. You have Jackie Brown singing for Prince Tony. You have this guy that sing “Buttercup”?

Winston Scotland?
Winston Scotland. So yeah…

Then you have “Stronger Than Love” on TR Groovemaster, perhaps done a bit later on?
“Stronger Than Love”… aaahh! That’s the song I’m trying to remember (sings) “I wanna see my people get together, stronger than love…”. Something like that…

So you did quite a few recordings for him. But there was never an album?
No. With Prince Tony now… all of us singers so true in Jamaica now. We used to, like, hang around the pretty bwoy singers them. Like in those days the pretty bwoy singers them, you have Chosen Few, Derrick Harriott, they leave… for they go to Prince Tony. The Chosen Few guys, them, they was the slick singers in Jamaica weh every stage show you have a lot of girls. You have Scotty and another guy “Pretty Boy” Pat Satchmo! And then Prince Tony used to drive that pretty Capri car and stuff like that. Me personally like to hang around them, y’know! For me like to drive them pretty car too and all them t’ing and hang out with all a them other singers, you know what I mean (laughs)? It’s true. I’m just telling the real thing, the facts. But I don’t get no money from Prince Tony. Is just promises, promises… and we now come fe wear these big heeled shoes, them tall platform shoes and wearin’ them bell-foot pants and then… my head is bald right now but y’know you had the “soul” (laughs)… you get your hair plat up during the night and get it out in the morning with the afro pickment!! (much laughter). Yeh, so it’s kinda like a “sweet bwoy” image, y’know! That go in the recording world too, you know what I mean?!

Then it was time to move on again, I guess. You had records for different producers like Techniques, Taurus, Galaxy, Spiderman, GGs. There’s this one “Time Slipping Away” (World Wide) around 1975?
“Time Slipping Away” is for a guy who used to work for Joe Gibbs, a guy called Errol. He asked me to sing that song (sings) “time is slipping away now, and me nuh get fe mi yet!”, that song. I think I sing two songs for Errol (sings) “my darling you told me that you care, what have I done?”. That one… “What Have I Done” is a Wilfred “Jackie” Edwards song. Yes sir! Man, you do some real research on me? You really research me bad (laughs)! Then I think next I go around to Duke Reid, Treasure Isle studio. BB Seaton was producing some songs with Jimmy London. And Glen Brown now, he had me sing this “(I Wanna See My People) Get Together” (for Pantomine).

Glen Brown (Photo: Dave Hendley)

Glen Brown (Photo: Dave Hendley)

How did that Glen Brown session come about?
Well, you know Glen Brown and BB Seaton, they used to hang out. They was actually running Duke Reid’s studio in the mid 70s. Then Jimmy London… you know, we were always round the studio so Glen Brown now ask me to sing that song “Get Together”. Then from me sing the song I no hear nutten more about it again. I no get no penny offa the song until my friend here… it take a white guy here in America from Hartford, Connecticut to do a research and see the song on the internet. And he call and tell me seh “Keith you know what man? I see this song on the internet ´(I Wanna See My People) Get Together´” and he…

That’s the “Boat To Progress” compilation you refer to, I guess?
A: Yes, sir. He track down the CD and get it from somewhere in California, so I got the CD here now with that one song on it.

So you only did one track for Glen Brown?
Well, to be honest, I personally never consider Glen Brown… to be a stable singer for him. You know, them guys was just trying a little thing. They were more looking out for them own self, more than look out for another artist. You know, for… an artist not gonna look out for another artist when you look for hittin’ the limelight just like the other artists. Right? So it just happened like Glen Brown didn’t want… but who knows what would happen if somebody might ask you and the person who you think you’re not gonna sing for, that it might give you that international…? It might be that person you’re gonna do the hit for? So, I seh alright, I’ll sing it. And I just sing me song for him, but… it never work out the way how I’d expect. So I never hear nutten more about that song. Until today I never hear from Glen Brown about it. I see him in New York now and he plays (percussion) on my new CD and he said he don’t get any money from the person who put out the album in England (Greensleeves, who, for whatever reason, deleted those three Brown compilations only a few of years after release. -P). But I don’t think I buy that story! Is just because he come front face to face with me now that he tell me a hard luck story. But you know… I’m still here.

Then you went to Lloyd Campbell?
Yes. Lloyd Campbell now, he just leave England and come to Jamaica. Lloyd Campbell was working at this dry-cleaner at Parrington Bridge right up by Carib Theatre. Back beside Carib right with KG. KG used to have a record store in Cross Road. That chiney guy he used to work at the dry cleaner. He said he have this riddim and him have the song “Same Thing For Breakfast”. He was looking for somebody to sing the song. I don’t think he had any money to pay somebody else to do the song. Somebody tell him… said the song require a deep tone, in some part of the song. Like some part like this (sings) “I’m not gonna say you should run around, looking for something you ain’t put down…”, right there. You hardly find a Jamaican singer can sing a bass. So him said somebody tell him that “check Keith Poppins”. Alright, him check me and we do the song one Friday afternoon at Harry J studio over by the Stadium. Ansel Collins him said he take the riddim and lyrics over from England. And him give me the lyrics a de song and I studied it. We go up by Harry J now with Ansel Collins who dubbin’ the keyboard part. He said the riddim were made for this singer in England called… I think he sings one (sings)” I’ve got nose to travel, I just can’t see my face…”, something like that. He give the song to Mr. Pottinger. He used to have his record place on Orange Street. Mr. Pottinger was the one who pressing the song and Lloyd Campbell selling the song out of him van. Now Mr. Pottinger start distribute the song and one time I go inside Mr. Pottinger’s and a guy said “bwai Poppin, you know what man, you have a hit man an’ it gone 45,000!” And you know, Peter, the only thing I can remember that I get… my mother passed away in 1973 and I didn’t have any money to help put my mother away. During the time when the song sell a lot for me and I go to him and said “Lloyd, I need some money fe help bury my mother”. Him said he don’t have any money. After I sing the song for him then his attitude change towards me. Him start to pass me now and don’t talk to me no more. And the song is on the charts now. During the time when Barry Heptones sing “The Book of Rules”, you remember that one? That song was number one the Friday night. And then my song was number two. Then Lloyd Campbell said if me know somebody who me can get the money to borrow from, then he would give back the money to pay the guy. So I went to a friend and he lend me a hundred dollars and I take it and give it to me big sister. I think I remember that Lloyd Campbell give me back the hundred dollars or if I get it somewhere else to pay back me friend…? But I NEVER get a penny, Peter, off “Same Thing For Breakfast”!

Lloyd Campbell

Lloyd Campbell

Then he got “Whenever There Is Moonlight”( which was put out through Matador in the UK on Eagle/Jama, but was a Lloyd Campbell production) which is a Jackie Edwards song… never get any money from that. Me sing “Same Thing For Breakfast”, a big, big hit. Until this day I never get no money from that! I do another Jackie Edwards song “Why Make Believe” (Lace) for him. That go to number two on the charts. I do a next cover song, “Before The Next Teardrop Fall”, that Charlie Pride song. I notice Lloyd Campbell him stop talk to me now. Him see me on downtown Parade and dem t’ing. He go on like him don’t know me! This is a guy who come from a cleaner business and used to drive a cleaner van! Take up people’s dirty clothes and give to different cleaners. Him turn to big superstar now and him no talk to me no more when he have a hit record. Dougie (Bryan) now, who used to play with Jackie (Jackson, the Dynamites bass player) from the Supersonics, and Dougie now, he used to have a green Capri 2000 and Lloyd Campbell bought the Capri, from Dougie. He pass me all a bus stop, me as the singer, yunno! And him have a girl inna de Capri. And me is the man who sing the song fe him that him could give up the cleaner job and him start to record other singers now. Me go to a party one night, and Joy White there happen to know seh is me that is Keith Poppin with “Same Thing For Breakfast” a gwaan with the t’ing in Jamaica. Joy White start talk to me and me tell Joy White “OK, I can take you to Lloyd Campbell”. I take Joy White to him. And she do “(All Dem A Try To Fight Dung I Dem A) Dread Out Deh”, remember that one? “Dread Out Deh”, that was a hit, too. So, is me, this bwoy Keith Poppin who bring Lloyd Campbell into the fortune of fame when into today the guy don’t talk to me any more! The guy act like him malice me. I don’t get no royalty from him, nutten at all I get from him! NOTHING! And Peter, the way how I’m telling you man, weh Keith Poppin say… I want you to publish it the same way, that I don’t get a PENNY from him!! One time I go to England and go down to this place, it must be Jama? Campbell him give Jama some songs to put out with me. And I go ask Mr Jama… a likkle short man and said “you have some little royalty for me?”. Him seh no. “I don’t have any royalty for you, Keith. Lloyd Campbell collect all your royalty. Go to Campbell for your money”. Then I go to Lloyd Campbell and ask him “what about the royalty for Jama seh you have the money for me?” …and until this day I don’t get any money from Lloyd Campbell. But you know what then? The Lord bless me so much that I don’t have fe ask Lloyd Campbell and none a dem for anything. For the Lord bless me with a brand new house. Just me and me wife live here. The Lord bless me with a big Ford Expedition. Me drive a big Ford Expedition. The Lord bless me and bring me further that me mek them show this CD I’m coming out with now, it gonna eat up the whole a dem! You know, I never get a 500 dollar royalty yet! From all a dem songs. From none a those producer. You know what? No more a dem! Never! You have to pay to learn. And you know wants? Wants is a terrible t’ing. Sometimes is just wants a you sing fe certain people. But this will never happen again to this bwoy, Keith Poppin!

What about “Love Affair” for Spiderman? And “Trod On” (Lucky Star) for Warrick Lyn and Jah Lloyd?
“Love Affair”? Yeah, I say (sings) “today tomorrow is just the same, just the same for you and me girl, walking down the street holding hands together, talking about love affair…” (laughs). Warrick Lyn’s for Dynamic Sound. Oh yeah, Mr. Lyn! There used to be a chiney man at Orange Street named Mr. Lyn and he used to do some recording, so I did that “Trod On” for him.

You had “Stand By Me” for the Galaxy label?
Yeah, that was a song I do for Lee Perry and then I re-record it over. And Jimmy London also re-record back “Tighten Up” on the Galaxy label too.

There’s this other one-off on Intel Diplo, “Jam Down Festival” for Peter Tosh?
Intel Diplo… Peter Tosh now, you see Peter Tosh is a very private person. During his lifetime. Then Peter said, well, he’d like me to sing for Intel Diplo label.

How did you link up with Peter?
Well, Peter Tosh now he is from Westmoreland. And my mother’s name Lucille McIntosh. And Peter Tosh family and my family is all from the same area in Westmoreland. Then the lady now that was recording and producing the song Peter Tosh and she, I think they used to have something going or whatever. Then Peter said “alright, since Keith sing that song I can have him come on my label”. But is not…if you notice he don’t put nobody else on that label. Is just me and I think Mick Jagger, when he sing that…

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin

“Don’t Look Back”?
Yes. I have the record here still but the vinyl broke, fell to the floor and broke.

And “Make Hay”?
Yeah…for GGs, up by Half Way Tree. I sing another one for him called (sings) “there is a girl somewhere for me, and I really have to find her…”. I think I sing about two or three tunes for him (Alvin Ranglin).

Those producers you did one or two songs for… there was never talk about doing an album, or how was the deal?
What happen to these producers now, they would come and say “I have a recording session Keith and would like you to do a one song, yunno?”. They never front you with a album business. They just hoping that they come with a quick seller and cover back the expenses. The don’t care nutten more, y’know wha’ I mean? Dem time now in Jamaica they have dem bad bwoy friend who follow them so you can’t really go and ask them for no money then they would mek dem bad man friend come and antagonise you and stuff like that, you know what I mean? So you just sing a one song for a guy if it make it…y’know? So is just one a dem t’ing. You see most of these producer when you record for them they take your song and release them overseas. For one time in Jamaica some Japanese people come there and see me in Chancery Lane, that is downtown Kingston beside Randys record store. And they had a Japanese paper. Somebody tell them, “that’s Keith Poppin”. And they show me, and they have Peter Tosh in the paper, too. They have me in the paper but with writing in Japanese, so I asked the guy what it said? “Oh, they have Keith Poppin as a big recording artist in Japan!”. So they send all a them song weh you know about all over the place and release and we hear nothing more about it here. Because you see a man like me, I don’t achieve nothing and I don’t collect a 1000 dollar royalty yet! And look how much songs! You know, all the amount of records and time I contribute to the music and to the business and the voice that God give to me weh other people out in the world listening to me! If I never came to America and get me self a day job I wouldn’t own a house and have a nice ride. And this new CD I have now is not recording money do it. I have to go down and punch the time clock, for every morning. That’s what I could achieve. For I’m one a the Jamaican singer weh I contribute so much to the business! And it sad! It sad fe really know…

Like you said before…you gotta pay to learn. But it’s a pity that you have to “pay” so much!
It kinda grieve me when I’ve contributed so much to the business that… when you remind me of so much of my songs that I don’t even remember and I have nutten to show out of it. I mean some people, they live big off of me, they drive big car. But, y’know, is just life. Make dem stay.

But you can at least be assured that you have made timeless music, something lasting.
Yes. Thanks for that, man. It’s true. Up to this day people have still listened to Keith Poppin. This CD I have now it going blow me back right up there man, again. I just wanna have someone to distribute the CD properly. An artist can only do so much, y’know?

You did two tunes for Taurus, “Birdie” and (a roots favorite) “Hold Not Thy Peace”?
Yeh (sings) “if I could be a birdie, I would fly and fly and fly…”. Yes, and “Hold Not Thy Peace” now, D. Brown tell me personally that he like that song deh. Yeah, that song is on the album “More of Keith Poppin”. And “Birdie”, for Charles Reid. He is a next one again…

Who is Charles Reid? Related to Duke Reid?
Nah. He was one a dem guys from England weh have that big “Duke Reid International” sound. So, he come back to Jamaica to record some artists. Then I was in a de line-up fe record and I do the album. But I do the album now and (Reid) supposed to go back to England and promised us to take us over to tour. Jimmy London do one album, and I do one album. We (Keith and Jimmy London) were supposed to go tour in England, but we only reach Canada. So we spend like two months in Canada and then go back to Jamaica. For some stuff go down in England with the Duke Reid guy. I think they was looking for him for something so we couldn’t make it to England. That album’s got a Canadian address and two man distributing the record. One named “G. Cliff” (?) and a next one called “Cookie” Chin or something, a chiney man up deh weh keep records for Clive Chin and dem. So only thing I got from that record is a copy of it, yes…

Phil Pratt

Phil Pratt

So please tell me more of how you got into the works for Phil Pratt?
Okay. I go to Phil Pratt in 1976. I record “Envious”, “Who Are You (That I Should Be Mindful Of)”. “Envious” sell some 36,000 copies! And “Who Are You” again sell in the same region like “Envious”. So I had two hit that same year one behind each other, for Phil Pratt. Then I come with the great “Some Day Girl” on the “Who Are You” riddim. That’s the same riddim. Only thing we get is “Trommie”, Don Drummond Jr… I don’t know if you know who that is?

Vin Gordon?
Yes sir. He put in the sax (actually a trombone -P.) in it. Those three song was three big seller for me right away there so in 1976. Then now I move on to the “Envious” album. He want me to do an album. At least him want take me now as one a him stable artists. For him know I can sing. I’m the one who make the label (Chanan-Jah/Sun Shot) start to be known now again. Bringing in the money for the label again, y’know? So I do the “Envious” album (this LP came out in different form as “Pop Inn” on the English Burning Sounds imprint, a release Keith, when mentioned to him, didn’t know anything about. -P). Then I do some other 45 like “A Whey Me Do (Mek Yu Deh ‘Pon Me An’ Don’t Want Ease Me Up)”, an’ song like those. Quite a few more songs I do for him. Like “Hop Scotch”, a lot of songs I do for Phil Pratt. I think actually I do two albums. Then I take Jimmy London to Phil Pratt and he start sing on the label. Pratt now go off to England. Then he send a ticket for Jimmy London, first. And Pratt is supposed to send a ticket for me too, for I was the first singer who put money in Pratt’s pocket, on the label. Jimmy London tell me that when he go to England he have to tell Pratt seh “what about the ticket for Poppin”? So Jimmy say he actually have to pluck out the ticket out a him! For him send the ticket for me. Then me and Jimmy London there in England actually for six months. And doing some likkle shows and stuff like that and no money. With no proper management… you’re not treated like an artist, you’re treated to… they wanna show you like some likkle club. Only thing I remember, I sing a Empire Ballroom. I sing at the Bouncing Ball Club. We sing in like Birmingham, Huddersfield, Reading, Slough (?), but no money coming in. Some likkle gig-gig-gig… that me never personally want find myself doing! Out of circumstances you just gotta do what you got to do.

Who backed you up on that tour?
The band in England that back me, they’re called The Dove Rocks. It was a good band, from London. I think one of the guys in the band is called Errol. The keyboard bwoy he… one time before I leave Jamaica, I think Freddie McGregor had him playing with him down in Jamaica. For he was a decent keyboard player and he easily get busy on the stage. So I had like a four-piece band travelling with me then. But the gig dem wasn’t properly booked. I remember one time we supposed to go to Germany, a reggae festival, while up in Canada. Then the guy want 1800 for me personally to go to Germany. And the guy said if either me or Jimmy London go behind his back he would call the Immigration office and tell them seh that we work without a work permit, for at that time we didn’t have any work permit. True, we didn’t wanna break the laws – so we didn’t go. So wha’pen to Phil Pratt now, he go up to England for quite a while. And then he come back while I was singing for Galaxy label, for that label wasn´t really a known label. My buddy dat who had a rent-a-car in Jamaica and him know me. So he said “Keith, you’re a good singer man, so I’m gonna produce a couple of songs with you.” So I said alright, and he produced “Stand By Me” and then Jimmy London come along and he sing a couple songs too. As I said, at the same time Pratt come back from England and want me and seh bwoi him want I fe sing back a couple of songs for him. But at the same time I and Jimmy were singing for Galaxy. Then I said to Pratt, “Man yunno what? At this point in time I don’t think I wanna run all over the place for everybody” and I know I sing everywhere and don’t see no money, no tour coming up y’know… people just want you to sing! Just like that…

But you went back to Randys for a couple of tunes like “Behold Them” (Roots) and “Some A Dem A Go Shame” (VP)?
No, that was before Pratt. So that throw off me and Pratt. For him said I “must sing”. I must just say “oh yeah”… like you would tell a man seh “you must jump off a dat bridge!”. And you say “what bridge man?”, and then you must just jump?! So me tell him seh no mek me just a stay with me buddy weh me really a sing (for). For my buddy didn’t have no “big” plans, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to mess up that. Then he went to Jimmy London ’cause he did want him to sing too and Jimmy tell him behind my back “that bwoy Keith said him not going to sing for him again”. So, seh bwoy me nuh sing more songs for him so he must carry a feelings or whatever, for me. After I give him the hits and so much record. Pratt now would give you a likkle money at weekend time. But, at the same time Pratt is better than Lloyd Campbell! At least Phil Pratt give me a ticket fe go a England and make me know it. I don’t get nutten from Lloyd Campbell. One time me did sick and deh a hospital down a Jamaica. Phil Pratt him come a de hospital and look fe me and him buy pyamas and all dem t’ing for me. So me can say, well, Phil Pratt better than Lloyd Campbell. I don’t collect nothing from Lloyd Campbell and it hurt me until this day! So him use me! Him take advantage. He’s a guy who come from England and have nothing in life and him never have no money and me is a man who make him know everybody! Make him know Alan Magus at the radio station for him nuh know nobody, Bryan Thomas and all them man deh. If it wasn’t for my voice on dem records him couldn’t know them man. Milton Rubottom and the whole a dem guys who use to play my record, and the guy don’t give me nothing. Pratt actually never give me a royalty check, but at least a weekend time ina dem days deh he give you a likkle 50 dollar. A likkle 100 dollar here and there. A likkle 70 dollar…you know dem way deh? That would keep your pocket for the weekend. So Pratt him use to run him business but at least he would give yu a likkle somet’ing. And to be honest, Pratt him never used to be like him don’t acknowledge you. But Lloyd Campbell is a man he act like you are nothing, after you put him in the spotlight! Then I start to record for myself now…

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin

But you went back to Randys for a couple of tunes like “Behold Them” (Roots) and “Some A Dem A Go Shame” (VP)?
No, that was before Pratt. So that throw off me and Pratt. For him said I “must sing”. I must just say “oh yeah”… like you would tell a man seh “you must jump off a dat bridge!”. And you say “what bridge man?”, and then you must just jump?! So me tell him seh no mek me just a stay with me buddy weh me really a sing (for). For my buddy didn’t have no “big” plans, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to mess up that. Then he went to Jimmy London ’cause he did want him to sing too and Jimmy tell him behind my back “that bwoy Keith said him not going to sing for him again”. So, seh bwoy me nuh sing more songs for him so he must carry a feelings or whatever, for me. After I give him the hits and so much record. Pratt now would give you a likkle money at weekend time. But, at the same time Pratt is better than Lloyd Campbell! At least Phil Pratt give me a ticket fe go a England and make me know it. I don’t get nutten from Lloyd Campbell. One time me did sick and deh a hospital down a Jamaica. Phil Pratt him come a de hospital and look fe me and him buy pyamas and all dem t’ing for me. So me can say, well, Phil Pratt better than Lloyd Campbell. I don’t collect nothing from Lloyd Campbell and it hurt me until this day! So him use me! Him take advantage. He’s a guy who come from England and have nothing in life and him never have no money and me is a man who make him know everybody! Make him know Alan Magus at the radio station for him nuh know nobody, Bryan Thomas and all them man deh. If it wasn’t for my voice on dem records him couldn’t know them man. Milton Rubottom and the whole a dem guys who use to play my record, and the guy don’t give me nothing. Pratt actually never give me a royalty check, but at least a weekend time ina dem days deh he give you a likkle 50 dollar. A likkle 100 dollar here and there. A likkle 70 dollar…you know dem way deh? That would keep your pocket for the weekend. So Pratt him use to run him business but at least he would give yu a likkle somet’ing. And to be honest, Pratt him never used to be like him don’t acknowledge you. But Lloyd Campbell is a man he act like you are nothing, after you put him in the spotlight! Then I start to record for myself now…

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin

Like “Do You Love Me” and “Go Back Home”? That was on the Pilgrim label.
Yes. “(I´ve Got To) Go Back Home” is my record. Pilgrim is my label dat. And that Teddy Pendergrass song (“Love TKO”, on Reggae). Then me have another song called “chat you just a chat you just a Labrish Labrish”. Me do that for myself and a next guy called Patterson.

So at the turn of the 70s into the early 80s, what did you do then? There wasn’t much records…
(laughs) It’s true man! Well, you know how it go, man! Just struggling. Do one off show here and there, like Negril. To survive. Work ‘pon the northcoast scene and t’ings like that. Is just a matter of survival, y’know?

What made you decide to put out a new record, now?
Well, you know what? I’m a singer, like any other singer. And that feeling is always there! You know that! But you hear that saying “the heart is willing but the pocket is weak”? There’s likewise any adult singer who would like to put out a new CD but might be them waiting for somebody to produce them? Some producer to come along there. Well, I said I’m not gonna wait for no producer. The little money that I work, when I can spend a little money on laying a track then I’ll do that track. So that’s how my new CD finish. I take me time and work on the CD, and now I have eleven original tracks.

Who do you collaborate with on it?
Glen Adams from the old Upsetters. He used to play keyboards for Bob Marley. He now have a studio in Brooklyn. The first tracks I lay them in Jamaica. “Living In America”, laid that with Dwight Pickney from Zap Pow, Roots Radics… he have a recording studio at his house (Abeng Int’l -P.). I lay two tracks with him when on holiday in Jamaica. And I work with some guys in North Carolina. What I find out here… that “drum slam” from the foot drum, them don’t give it the “hit”. You know the mixing have a lot to do with any song. If you really want to give it justice you have to give it to a Jamaican engineer to mix it. Then I went to New York and get in the studio with Ed Robinson and do the final voicing. Then we get Glen Brown to put in some congo drums. I get one guy from a (old) group called Rags & Riches in Jamaica. Jimmy London do some backing harmony on my new CD too ‘ca when I go down to Jamaica two or three years ago he was the one that go to the studio with me to do some backing vocals…

Poppin’s new CD is titled “Journeys” (available through www.keithpoppin.com, a site Keith launched earlier this year) and is probably only his third full-length solo album in almost 23 years. But good things comes to those who wait. And we’ve waited long enough for Keith Poppin, if you ask me a major talent in reggae music. He did turn up around 1990 with two 7″ releases, including a cover of Al Green’s “God Is Standing By”, after a long, long absence during the 1980s. Then he dropped out of sight again. But new projects are in the making, such as a set of oldies, and live shows. Luckily for us he has never really given up and the intention to make a serious comeback has been apparent. The album Journeys shows Keith’s ability to create new music in different styles which should only widen its appeal compared to his previous traditional approach to the music…nothing wrong with that though! Nevertheless, it still has that typical “Keith Poppin touch” about it and a timeless feel. For me, that’s what Poppin is about, music for all time and taste, and for all ages. One of the best reggae had to offer, and still has, by the way…

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

[AD]

  • Reggae Vibes Banner

i tunes

Subscribe